Daughter of Tarragon

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Mingling

Sleeping on horseback was not an experience that Dolen enjoyed, but Quickfoot had given him no choice. He had not realized how far they had gone until he noticed the light slowly coming to the forest around them. The heaviest snow had begun hours earlier, and accumulation had reached a half-foot. Still, the blue roan mare had kept up her pace, even as the world around them was blanketed in white. The winds had just begun to sting his face when they reached the outskirts of their territory.

Absently running a hand over Quickfoot’s neck, Dolen’s eyes were drawn upward again, squinting against the stinging snowflakes as they passed by. A thicker flash of white made his brows draw down, and he heard wings beating solidly in the midst of the storm. Now that he recognized the territory, he focused on the owl that had obviously followed him home. The flight pattern was strange; back and forth, around, and then back again. Always keeping a tight perimeter around horse and rider. Dolen wondered for a split second how the owl had kept sight of them, both covered in their white furs, but glimpses of the mare’s dark tail and mane were sure to be seen.

“That’s something I’ve never seen before,” a voice broke his reverie.

The tired watcher turned quickly to catch the gaze of another of his fellow guards. This one he knew by face, and nothing otherwise. He was shielding his eyes, staring upward as Dolen had been minutes earlier. Quickfoot had stopped. The fact that he had missed that only proved how much he needed a good night’s rest.

“They are not known to fly in storms like this,” the male commented again. When Dolen did not reply, he shrugged and pointed. “Ta’llevny wishes to see you,” he said solemnly, eyes glinting for a moment. “You seem to be the last to arrive.”

Dolen nodded, doing his best to hide the sour look that threatened his features. Quickfoot moved without being told to. Had that been why she was so urgent in her pace? She had known all of this time that there was some sort of news or meeting that they were to attend at dawn’s first light? Shaking his head, he bit back another mental complaint at his own lack of mind-speech.

Once on the edge of Ta’llevny’s grove, Dolen dismounted. He gave Quickfoot an appreciative pat, and shifted the fur cover over her form before he turned to enter. He guessed that there was not even time to un-tack the weary horse, so rather than ride her in, he chose to walk.

His steps were silent, as always. Though he had never quite understood how silent until he caught sight of a form nearby. Upon focusing, he realized it to be Silna, though her position was quite strange. She was not on the path, and was as still as a baby deer. Her attention was on something at the other side of the batch of snow covered bushes she crouched behind. Tilting his head, Dolen shifted his path to mingle with hers, moving up behind her silently. A figuring look crossed his features as he finally caught site of what it was she had been spying on. Ta’llevny’s newest famed rider, Tey’ven.

“They do tend to be more useful when they can see you,” he said in a voice just soft enough for her to hear.

She jumped, spinning in a hushed fashion and fixed him with one of her venomous stares. Silna and Rowena had always been quick to anger. He often wondered which one had learned that trait from the other.

“Why is it that you only speak when no one else wants you to?” she whispered back, though her eyes shifted after she had said it. His face must have fallen at least slightly for her to seem so apologetic. The hardened mask was back up in no time though, and Silna met his gaze again.

“You have missed much, Dolen.” her voice was just as soft, but noticeably more serious.

Dolen’s eyes hardened, but he did not push her to continue. Now was not the time, though part of him screamed with questions. He simply lifted his gaze again to Tey’ven, who was engrossed in a serious conversation with another guard.

“There is a meeting being held,” he said in an odd mix of a question and statement.

“Yes. That is why I’m here,” another cold statement from her.

The urge to make a quipping comment came over him, but he decided against it. It was best not to anger Silna any more than he already had. To sneak up on another elf was considered rude to begin with (even if the other was doing some sneaking of her own).

“He can likely hear your breaths from here,” was what he said, standing up more firmly and turning to move back out onto the main path. “We will be late.”

Dolen did not turn to watch her follow, for her steps were clearly audible, if loud. It was almost as if she was trudging. Had he struck a nerve with this words? As he reached the main path and walked toward the two they had both been watching, he figured it was not him that had struck the nerve in the first place.

“Who is your new friend?” Silna’s voice reached his ears a few moments before she fell into step with him.

His green eyes darted to the only one she could be speaking of, now looking comfortable as it perched in a tree above the path. As they had in the past few days, the tiny eyes followed his motions as he walked below. Pressing his lips together, Dolen focused on the path again. The large, ethereal clearing coming into view ahead of them.

“I do not know.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Lady! Who was that? Why did she-die? She-is-human-like-you-are…”

Rowena blocked out Wylden’s speech. He tended to speak extremely fast when excited, sometimes even slipping into his own language (which was even more impossible for her to understand). The girl’s fall had surprised her, but her attempt to bend over had been thwarted by her garb. At first she had tried holding her breath, but she soon discovered that letting out a long breath before crouching down in by Lora’s side made the corset pinch her torso much less. Though, there was only so long one could go without taking a breath.

“Lora?” she whispered.

Quickly remembering the reason for her collapse, Rowena waved a hand in Wylden’s direction, still facing Lora as she spoke in a harsh whisper.

“Wylden, get out!” After a moment she turned to face the small male, who was currently perched on the handle of the door. “You’re the reason she fainted in the first place!”

“S..she is alive?”

“What is he saying?” Lora asked, causing Rowena to whip around and look to the girl. She had hoped she could pretend the fairy had not been there in the first place. That was out of the question now, as Lora slowly sat up, her eyes refocusing on Wylden’s tiny form.

“Oh, I’m so happy you didn’t die! You must be the one who made Lady Rowena look so beautiful.” Without hesitation, he took flight, bowing animatedly in the air before the stunned girl. “I am Sir Wylden of Feather Grove!” he exclaimed happily.

Wylden was doing a great job of enunciating his words, which the fairies often had trouble with. Obviously, he did not know that Lora would not be able to decipher those words. In reply, Lora just stared, and Rowena pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Wylden, she doesn’t speak Elvish,” Rowena spoke now in said language, looking exasperated.

Standing ever so slowly, she got to her feet, took a breath and reached down to help Lora up. She had no idea where he had heard it and what gave him the idea, but he had never once addressed himself as ‘Sir Wylden’. Though, Feather Grove was technically the name of his home. The grove of huge trees that the fairies lived in was also a home to many exotic birds during the warm seasons.

“Fairy,” Lora said at a length. “He’s a... fairy.”

The light haired woman’s eyes were wide as ever, though only now did they shift between Rowena and Wylden. This could be bad. She had been here less than two days, and already someone had discovered one of her secrets. Rowena wondered if it was her worry that was causing her to feel faint now, or the lack of air.

“You mean to tell me that the fables of Tarragon are true?” Lora’s voice raised fractionally as a bright smile lit her features, her skin beginning to regain it’s color.

A moment later however, the smile dropped and she hurried towards Rowena, making a circle around to her back. She felt tugging there, and a wonderful loosening around her torso.

“There’ll be two of us on the floor if you can’t breathe right. Is that better?”

Rowena nodded, taking another slow breath and offering an embarrassed smile as Lora came into her view again.

“Some of the stories are true, yes. But you must promise to keep this a secret,” her eyes darted to Wylden, a serious look on her face now. “Imagine how your king and his people would react to such knowledge.”

The words had the right effect, and Rowena was glad that Lora seemed to be one of the few humans in this kingdom who had good hearts. The girl nodded solemnly, though a moment later her brows lifted again.

“Can I tell my brothers?”

Rowena looked down, sighing softly as she thought hard on the matter. Regardless of what happened, the sight had been seen. She knew at least of the fairies. Though, she did not know that elves were the race she lived with, much less that they existed.

“I... could try, but I don’t like keeping things from them. I’m sure they’d likely tell Lord Vance, but I don’t think it would go any further than him,” Lora implored, obviously having recovered from her earlier fainting spell..

“Lady, I was in a hurry to tell you that they’re coming! Spirit said the prince-male and his guards were on their way to escort you to a large dinner!” Wylden interrupted, looking between the two girls, even grinning widely when he caught Lora’s eyes on him again.

Shaking her head, she lifted a hand, effectively gaining Lora’s attention. “Yes, but only them,” her eyes shifted to the door. “And after the dinner, if you do not mind. Wylden says they are on their way here to escort us down.”

Lora’s brows lifted even higher at that, but as she opened her mouth to speak, there was a knock at the door. Rowena watched in mild fascination as Lora’s face went from excited and girlish, to serious in a matter of moments. That was something they had in common, then, for Rowena had learned to do such things in her younger years.

“Can he-” she make a gesture with her hands that must have meant ‘hide’.

“Wylden,”

Rowena did not have to finish that sentence. The male fairy winked and simply flashed out of sight in that same second. Lora’s facade broke for a moment, but she regained her composure and moved to take Rowena’s arm once again.

“Is that his name?” she whispered as the two moved towards the door again.

“Wylden, yes.” Rowena said in a soft voice, and watched Lora grin again, her eyes twinkling for a moment before she opened the door.

The three males smiling back at them had somehow managed to clean themselves up and dress almost as elegantly as the females. Dale and Cameron were practically gleaming in their guard uniforms, and the prince was looking as gallant as one of his status should. Taking her arm, Vance walked on her right side, Lora on her left. With the twins keeping ‘guard’ at the back, she somehow felt comforted. Though, she wondered if this small group was as trustworthy as they seemed to be. She certainly hoped so.

Any of Rowena’s current worries were replaced with butterflies as they entered the grand hall. Though many eyes went right to her and Vance, her own eyes wandered the area in awe. The humans had decorated the castle’s grand room to every detail, and her dress paled in comparison to some of the ladies that shuffled by.

“Just concentrate on breathing,” Lora whispered from her left side.

It almost made her laugh that such a suggestion would come to great use throughout that night.

- - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - -

It was a relief to finish the final plate. He knew it was a sign that the entire event was almost over. Once it was finished, his stress level would decrease significantly. As he eyed Rowena, it was clear that her initial jitters had receded as well. It was better that he had seated Dale on the other side of her, for his jovial nature was enough to keep even the most nervous of people smiling. Lora (who had the task of serving them) whispered in her ear as she leaned in to give them their different courses throughout the meal, no doubt giving her reassurances and hints along the way. He had been slow in his ways throughout the meal as well, knowing that less trained eyes were on him, mocking his motions in attempts to stay as mannerly as they could at a royal table.

It was all very imposing, Vance thought as he sat back, his eyes sliding over the high ceiling all the way down to the lengthy table. Courtesans of all types seemed to adorn the table as well as the food did. Colorful dresses and hairstyles assaulted the eyes, and loud (often times obnoxious) laughter and the clanking of utensils assaulted their ears as they all ate. Each ‘section’ of the table seemed to be in rapt conversations among themselves, and the second prince was just enjoying his own small bit of peace when the music started and the crowd hushed.

Vance fought back a frown as well as he resisted the urge to loosen the neckline of his shirt. The music meant that dinner was over and dancing would begin. Dancing was something he had always loathed. It was not gentlemanly to turn down an offer to dance, especially if a lady was doing the offering. As outlandish as the practice seemed, it was getting more and more popular as the years went by. He had just thought of asking Rowena, when he seemed to feel an aura of tension around him.

“Lady, if I may,” came Ferin’s voice.

It was unusually cool and calm, and lacking the ‘duck’ sound that Dale had pointed out. Turning, Vance caught sight of Rowena’s almost frightened look before she hid it behind a well-drawn mask. The foreign girl did have a knack at hiding her emotions. Even her eyes were hard for a moment before she smiled.

“Of course,” she answered, her accent not apparent in those few words.

Taking his hand, Rowena glanced in Vance’s direction, only now seeming to open up a communication through her eyes. It seemed to him that she knew what she was getting herself into. Regardless, he ignored his brother’s look and only turned to watch them go when he was sure both backs were turned to him. Ah, his brother had dressed most impeccably this evening. It seemed as though every button on his garb had been buffed to shine. Ferin’s intentions were more than clear.

“He seems to have taken a liking to her,” Vance’s father’s voice called his attention back to the other end of the table.

Practicing Rowena’s specialty, he put a soft smile on and nodded to his father. “Indeed. I’m happy she has taken so well to this environment.”

His father nodded, eyes red-rimmed already from the wine he had gone through. The king would not get up to dance, but would watch the younger of his court for hours, as if the dance itself was for his amusement alone. In reality, it was a cesspool of courtly drama. It was as though the couples who danced at a formal dinner were logged in a gold-plated book, ready to be brought up anytime the facts were needed.

“I think we will have a more serious discussion when the council meets next. There may be an arrangement that can be made.”

Vance nearly started. Once again, he had been caught up in his own thoughts, but this time he was also shocked by what his father had said.

“An... arrangement?” he asked, figuring his father well enough into the drink that he would speak on even terms.

The king lifted his hand in a simple gesture, as if it were all a routine. “Ferin will be in need of a lady soon, Vance. At his age, he is expected to stop with the trysts. At least to the public eye.”

Vance held strong to his facade as his father’s eyes focused on him, a smirk playing on wine stained lips. His mouth opened, closed, and then opened again before he finally gained control of his thoughts.

“I do not know much about the Lady, father,” he turned as he spoke, as if observing her as his father was. “She may very well be a taken woman.”

A derisive snort dashed his hopes, though that was all the noise his father made for awhile. Eventually, the man spoke again in a soft mumble.

“We’ll figure it out at the council meeting.”

After a short nod, Vance let out a slow breath and focused on his new guards. The boys had been well behaved, even quite courtly that evening. He had been especially glad that Dale had kept his words fairly short, and his voice down to a low tone. Cameron, of course, had been excellent.

Leaning back again, Vance took a deep breath, reminding himself not to let his eyes be caught by another female’s, and that it would be over within the hour. At least for him.

Lora’s scent drifted past his nose, and he tensed as the girl leaned in close by his side, placing a heaping cup of fruit and sweet-sauce in front of him.

“He’s taking her out into the halls,” she whispered softly into his ear before leaving his side to set two cups in front of her brother’s and Rowena’s empty place.

It honestly took a moment for him to shake the fog from his mind, but his sharp eyes were soon on the empty place where his brother had been dancing with Rowena.

“L-Lora,” he had almost addressed her as Lady.

She was not a courtesan, and as far as that went, she wasn’t a lady. He hoped she at least caught the tight motions he made with his jaw as he stood.

“Please accompany me to the washroom,” he said, even stumbling to make the show a little better for any who might be watching.

Hearing his father mumbling more about his son’s inability to handle alcohol was all he needed as he slipped out the door, Lora on his arm. Once free of any watching eyes, he turned to her, his own eyes wide.

“Where did they go?” his voice was a whisper, barely any tone carrying on it.

All business, she turned and began trotting down the empty hall, only glancing back to make sure he followed.

“The front door, I’m not sure which way!” she whispered as well, more harshly as she ran with her skirts flowing behind her.

As he watched her, he forced his mind to stay on task. His brother must not get Rowena to a place where she could be taken advantage of. The two reached the end of the hall and slowed to a walk. Lora slid back to fall into step with Vance again, putting her arm under his in proper manner, as if leading him. They made an attempt to peer around the corner, and found out too late exactly where Ferin was leading Rowena.

Cursing, Vance back stepped quickly, almost pulling Lora with him so that they were in the shadow of a large statue. He spun, looking over his back once and then back to Lora. Eyes wide, he shook his head, looking downward even as the idea came to him.

“You’ll have to kiss me, or at least look like you are,” he whispered, moving in closer to her as if shielding her from view.

That was exactly how he wanted it to look. If his brother had even the slightest hint of the real story, Rowena would be in even more danger than she was now. Vance focused and realized that Lora had flared a deep red, something that seemed to bring out the green in her eyes. She stuttered, her eyes darting behind him before she set her shoulders and nodded once.

Lora lifted her chin, and Vance caught her lips halfway. Ferin’s footsteps were the only sound that cut into his mind after that. He nearly stopped himself, feeling as though this was an intimate moment that had been interrupted, before he remembered that they were pretending. They did a fairly good job of pretending in that instance.

“Please excuse my brother’s actions,” Ferin’s voice rang out in an obnoxious fashion. “He’s still quite young. Trysts with servants are all too common with males his age.”

Vance broke the kiss, his head whipping around in anger. Though most of it was real, it made for a good surprised look, as if Ferin had actually ‘caught’ the two in the act, and not the other way around.

“And where are you taking our guest, Ferin?” he hissed, feeling Lora’s grip on his arms tighten. It was a reminder that he was still within the castle. Every word could be used against him if spoken loudly enough.

“A tour, brother. Something you seem to have forgotten in your dalliances,” he said, having turned both himself and Rowena to face the two.

Vance stepped wholly in front of Lora, not wanting Ferin to get a view of exactly which servant girl he was with. The less Ferin saw of Lora, the better. It was already enough that Dale and Cameron were becoming so famed.

“She was only here for a council meeting, Ferin,“ he almost growled.

The elder prince seemed to let his proverbial feather’s drop for a moment. That had obviously put a damper on something. If Ferin meant to do anything to Rowena, he would have to wait until after her obligations were fulfilled.

“Of course,” he quipped. “And by then she’ll be acquainted with her surroundings. No thanks to you,” Ferin spun on his heel, and almost pulled Rowena away as she offered another of her knowing looks.

It was almost amazing how much her eyes could portray in a matter of moments. Vance wondered if that was an attribute of her people.

“Come on,” Lora whispered from behind him.

The two walked slowly back down the hallway, Vance noting that the dull gray light coming from the windows was lessening, though the soft sounds of the winter gale had not yet subsided. Guards had already begun lighting torches along the halls as the two neared the door.

“You know that I-” he began, but the look she gave him stopped his words.

“He speaks of himself, Vance. Lies turn people to slime, and he oozes it.”

He straightened his stance, a short smile gracing his lips for a moment before he put up the facade as they entered the door. Lora had a way with being just brazen enough to get her point through, and Vance liked that. He also liked that she very simply brushed off his brother’s lie.

As his eyes scanned the cavernous dining room, he could not help but remember that he had also quite enjoyed the ‘fake’ kiss they had shared. It was somehow not a worry that a fraction of his brother’s words might be true. Quickly, he pushed all thoughts of that out of his mind, especially the worry that she may not have enjoyed herself as much as he had.

Rowena was seated when he returned, and the two exchanged knowing glances as he sat next to her once again. All seemed well after that. The dinner would soon end, and he would tell the Tarragon emissary more of the council meeting.

The evening had not quite ended when Rowena and Cameron both sat up ramrod straight in their chairs, Rowena gasping out “What?”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Somewhere in the dark of that night, amidst searing wind and sleet, a white mare emerged from the now open door of her stall. She took a few trotting steps forward before stopping, lifting her elegant head to look back with equine ears pricked forward. Turning, she took the few steps back to another stall, nosing the lock as she had done to her own until it was open. She began forward again, followed by the larger black stallion as the two raced out of the stable barn and into the wintry night.

They both seemed to make a beeline for higher ground, ignoring the weather that not even the castle guards could face at that time. Somehow, it seemed as though the two horses had business to attend to.

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